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Curious Alliances: Truth as Casualty in the US Presidential Election

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

The curious foursome of Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed, along with the Dr. Strangelove twins (John McCain and Lindsay Graham) have called for cooperation in protecting the United States against foreign cyber-attacks. This ‘double date’ under the guise of bipartisanship in the national interest, is complemented by very real political and institutional interests in play. The issue of Russian involvement in the US elections certainly is legitimate enough to investigate, but the domestic political stakes are high and the institutional turf defended, valuable. For McCain, it’s even more personal. The victim of torture in the Vietnam War McCain has always held Russia culpable for what befell him–never mind that his presence in Vietnam was due to the US launching a war on a country half a world away on the false pretexts of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.  For McCain, it was all Russia’s fault.

McCain, Graham and much of the GOP military industrial complex establishment, want to ensure no détente is achieved by Trump and Putin. The CIA, whose raison d’etre (and budgets) was/were linked to the existence of an all-powerful USSR, argued to the very end that Glasnosts and Perestroika were merely devious plots by the Soviets to lull the US into a state of complacency. Fortunately, Ronald Reagan ignored them and proceed to cautiously make peace with Mikhail Gorbachev. To state the obvious, an institutional bias against Russia remains to this day in the CIA. This does not mean we should reject any reports or conclusions the CIA tenders, but they definitely should be thoroughly interrogated for their veracity. Moreover, there are legions of intellectuals and policy consultants whose sense of self-worth and market value is linked to the idea of an expansionist Russia.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump just won the presidency while losing the popular vote by some 2.7 million ballots. Predictably, he wants no investigation of Russian interference in the US election, which might further erode the already gossamer thin legitimacy by which his election barely hangs. Thus, he, and crony GOP political operatives, such as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, ipso facto dismisses any need for investigations. For them, them the legitimacy of the GOP presidential win, ‘trumps’ any potential national security concerns.

Thus, some curious alliances are in formation. Russia haters and inveterate cold warriors, many of whom make their livings in part or in whole from US tensions with Russia, will join Trump haters, for whom their hate for Trump, ‘trumps’ any concerns about truth, in the project to ramp up tensions between the US and Russia. They are joined in this project by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, who mirror the tactics used by Russia at home in smearing those perceived to be politically at odds with them. Moreover, they will be joined by Clinton operatives and Democratic National Committee establishment figures seeking to shift blame away from themselves for their horribly mismanaged presidential campaign. Meanwhile, Trump and the worst cynics in the GOP, will thwart any attempts to investigate what, if any, interventions Russia made in the US election regardless of evidence presented.

Managing public opinion is an old game and the US and Russia both, of course play it with their respective information services. Surveillance of communications of foreign leaders is equally common. Leaks of data are also as old as they are frequent in attempts to influence opinion and  policy. Moreover, political staffers in the US and Russia alike appear to waste no small amount of time on newspaper comment boards and sending out tedious tweets rather than conducting the people’s business. None of this by Russia should be ginned up to justify neo-McCarthyist attacks against those critical of those taking us deeper into new Cold War terrain. There are, however, actions, which if Russia took, would be very serious. Chief among them would be if Russia discovered a way to hack US voting machines. While difficult to do, given that many of these voting machines are not internet connected, the laxity of oversight of US elections and lack of uniformity of US election laws (in party by the design of the GOP as a strategy of voter suppression) might make it nonetheless possible in some states. Yet, while that is merely speculation at present, the “known, knowns” are that US elections the past decade have been ‘hacked’ in their own way, by a domestic group, known as the Republican Party of the United States itself.

In the end, expect the question of Russia’s possible involvement in the US presidential election to be almost entirely agenda driven. Most will have drawn their conclusions before any evidence is produced. The first casualty has already been truth. Smear attacks on people of goodwill seeking real answers to precisely what, if anything, happened, will again be the new normal, as if we learned nothing from 1950’s McCarthyism. It seems each generation, unfortunately, in the words of George Santayana, is indeed doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past…

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Jeffrey Sommers is Professor of Political Economy & Public and Senior Fellow, Institute of World Affairs of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. His book on the Baltics (with Charles Woolfson), is The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model

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